There’s been a lot in the techie press lately about the death of “traditional media”, especially newspapers and magazines. Driving into the Leeds office this morning, I was listening to my favourite podcast This Week in Tech (TWiT as it’s known), when they began discussing the death of newspapers. A topic that, as a former journalist and self-styled “digital media guru”, I have some opinions on.
The thrust of the argument – by some people on TWiT and many others in the past – is that, as the Internet becomes increasingly ubiquitous, why would people bother with “dead wood and ink”when they can find all the news they want online?
Day to day, I find out most of the “stuff I want to know” through the Interweb so does that mean the “paper is dead” proclaimers are right?
Well, no, because what a lot of technology experts appear to forget is this: we’re geeks, the general public aren’t.
When you remain in your digital bubble, mixing with like-minded individuals, sharing the same daily experiences, then it’s sometimes easy to forget that not everybody thinks the same as you or, more accurately, does the same as you.
I spend at least 12 hours a day plugged into the Internet and I think nothing of firing-up a newsreader to get the latest updates on my 50 favourite feeds.
But that’s me. It’s an extension of my job. I’m expected to do this stuff. I enjoy it. I understand it.
My Mum? Wouldn’t know an RSS feed if it bit her on the bum. OK, so she’s 61 (sorry Mum) but how about my 34 year old brother? Doesn’t even own a computer. Well that’s not normal obviously but skipping over that…
My friends? The vast majority are 30-somethings and, excluding the ones who work in a similar “digital” field to myself, the vast majority get their news from the old-fashioned methods of TV, radio and newspaper; the “old media triumvirate” if you will. Yes they’ll maybe look at the BBC News web site or the forum for their favourite football team – but, when they want the “proper news” it’ll be the tele or the paper they’ll go to.
When you’re sat at the kitchen table on Sunday morning with the pot of fresh coffee and freshly-baked croissants, do you want to flick through The Observer, The Sunday Times or – heaven forbid – The Sunday Sport, or their corresponding web sites?
When I purchase a newspaper, I do so for a variety of reasons – the main one being the variety of news that it presents to me. The stories have been selected – let’s call it “edited” – for me; selected from all the possible news that happened the previous day. And I can scan an entire page to see a variety of stories I might be interested in.
I can view online newspapers on my computer or mobile phone – but it’s always headline story another headline etc. With a newspaper my eye can scan easily across entire stories.
Newspapers have scale that screens don’t have. And until either that problem is solved or our heads are re-wired to interact with information in a different way, we’ll keep using the dead trees.